Viticulture and grape varieties

Like everywhere else, Alsace had its troubles with viticulture in the 1960s and 1970s with too many pesticides and fertilizers, producing thin wines without soul and leaving dead soil in the vineyard. Since the 1990s growers in general have returned to more organic methods for different reasons. One was a more critical approach by consumers towards chemicals and the influence. Another was the strong “green” movement just across the border in Germany as well as the increasing success of biodynamic winegrowers which had proven that it is better to work with nature than against it. Moreover, Alsace is the home of biodynamic pioneers like Jean Pierre Frick who was one of the first in France who converted to biodynamic winegrowing. Frick is now a advocate for so-called “natural wines” and has abstained from using sulphur since 1999. A great deal has been written about the boon and bane of the natural movement, which I don’t have to repeat. I am sure you have your own opinion about this highly controversial topic. Notwithstanding this, Alsace boasts a high number of biodynamic winegrowers like Albert Mann, Zind-Humbrecht, Domaine Ostertag, Marcel Deiss, Domaine Muré and many others.

Nevertheless, plantings are still made with clones influenced by the zeitgeist of the 1960s and 1970s were the selection target was to have better and more reliable production, leading to bunches with big berries more susceptible to botrytis. You notice this especially in Pinot Noir, were the old and high yielding German clones are widespread and for Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer, too. In the case of Gewurztraminer the problem with those highly productive clones is that you lose the unique spiciness of the wines, which then become more reminiscent of fabric softener. In the case of Pinot Noir you have the problem that it is a thin-skinned grape variety. Phenolic compounds and flavours are located in the skin, and the bad skin-to-pulp ratio makes it impossible to produce complex Pinot Noir. Furthermore, botrytis develops an enzyme called laccase which destroys all colour. The only way to inactivate this enzyme is to heatup the must up to 70°C, which explains still used method of thermovinification for red wine in Alsace (as well as in Germany), a production method not known for making  multi-layered and complex  styles…. However, producers like Thomas Muré in Rouffach prove that it is possible to produce great Pinot Noir in Alsace. 

Viticulture and grape varieties